Whalers expect sterner test

One thing is for sure – the Otago Whalers are not going to get a head start like they did last weekend.

And it is a safe bet that the Southland Rams will be a much more cohesive unit.

The teams will meet in the South Island Championship final at the North Ground today.

They have very recent history. They played last week at the same venue and the home side cruised to a very comfortable 56-18 win.

A remarkable aspect of that game was that the Whalers led 16-0 after nine minutes and had not made a single tackle.

All the Rams had done was kick the ball off and gather in a huddle under the posts.

It was extraordinary stuff. But Whalers coach Dave Reedy is expecting a tighter contest today.

‘‘We won’t get as much space and freedom as we got on attack,’’ Reedy said.

‘‘Their defence will be tightened right up and should be pretty solid. And their attack will be more structured.’’

Southland actually foxed a little last weekend. The Rams took the opportunity to rest half a dozen players, including hooker Daniel Low, who is so crucial to their game plan.

‘‘Most of their attack runs off him, and he did not play last week.

‘‘They will definitely be much tougher. But we knew that and we’ve been preparing for it.’’

While Southland has made sweeping changes, Reedy has named a very familiar line-up.

Burly prop Mika Mafi and winger Tofatu Solia are unavailable, but dangerous second-rower Israel Otunuku has returned to the fold after taking a week off to rest a shoulder niggle.

Hooker Troy Anstiss was ill last weekend and is another returnee.

The Whalers will lean on Otunuku and the likes of Champ Betham and veteran Ricki Allan to punch the ball up the middle, while halves Mackenzie Haugh and Jordan McEntee only need a fraction of a gap to create some magic.

Expect Haugh to employ his spiral punt a lot, especially when he has the sun at his back. The Rams really struggled to deal with the high ball last weekend.

The Whalers have a couple of areas they need to work on as well. Reedy wants his side to put more defensive pressure on Southland early in the tackle count, and a lot more talk. The communication on defence, in particular, needs improving.

The attack could do with some straightening as well. He felt his side tended to drift wide.

Of course, they won by nearly 40 points, so the Whalers did a lot right.

And they will be strong favourites on their home track.

South Island Championship
The North Ground
Saturday at 2pm

OTAGO WHALERS:  Tama Apineru, Piliu Tavake, Sione Fa’aoso, Lawrence Ualesi, Kiardyn Hatch, Mackenzie Haugh, Jordan McEntee, Ricki Allan (captain), Troy Anstiss, Cameron Brown, Israel Otunuku, Champ Betham, Hagan Free, Jayden Hollander, Michael Mata’afa, Ben Fosita, Sam Wyber, Layne Opetaia, EJ Lam Cheung.

SOUTHLAND RAMS: Crete Walker, Brennan Sutherland, Juita Naqianivalu, Fale Iosefa, Nehemiah Fa’amoe Ioane, Korey Pennicott, Osika Kaufononga, Kieran Turuwhenua (co-captain), Daniel 
Low (co-captain), Junior Toparea, Tupou Kaufononga, Thomas Watts, Albert Qoro, Kelepi Holi, Kaiawha Walker, Marama Reti, Leo Wiki-Quest, Sione Kaufononga, Calder White, Josh Wilson. 

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